Brian O’Neill: Fifty years on, Barbie’s still cooking at Nied’s

Brian O’Neill – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – November 26, 2015

I’m having bacon and eggs near the end of the bar close to the front door at Nied’s Hotel in Lawrenceville, with Barb Kline working the grill in front of me.

She’s been at Nied’s 50 years.

A fellow named Bob, heading out the door, stops and says to Mrs. Kline in mock exasperation, “You didn’t even sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ I’m 85 today.’’

“I’ll put a candle in your eggs tomorrow,’’ she says over her shoulder, keeping one eye on the sizzling bacon.

It’s just another weekday morning in Nied’s, this one the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. A handful of women in scrubs, headed either to or from work at Children’s Hospital up the hill, are eating breakfast down the bar, and regulars are shuffling in and out. Two of the Casey sisters — Colleen, 57, and Flo, 65 — are in the dining room, and Dale McGinnis, working behind the bar, says, “And that ain’t a third of them.’’

There are eight Casey sisters who assemble in Nied’s for every birthday. Their celebrations are legendary.

I’m enjoying my eggs over easy but thinking about the turkey I’ll be having with my family today. Most of those walking in and out of Nied’s will be with family today, too, and maybe they’re also thinking ahead. But it’s no great stretch or insight to see the bonds formed in a neighborhood tavern as something nearly as strong as family.

Nied’s celebrated Mrs. Kline’s 50th anniversary with a cake Sunday, and though she says she prefers to stay in the background, she’s a person never far from a laugh or a smile, so she graciously answers my every question.

She was 21 and working across the street as a receptionist at a place that repaired industrial scales. An aunt worked at Nied’s — pronounced “Need’s” — and she’d help out now and again, but on Nov. 22, 1965, she took a full-time job because it beat the pay across the street.

She started out working for Jim Nied’s dad, Paul. Jim eased into the boss’ role after coming out of the Air Force in 1977. He was there Tuesday, wearing a long-sleeve black T-shirt with “Feelin’ the Nied?” in white letters.

Mrs. Kline says she stayed all these years because he’s a great boss.

What makes him that? I asked.

“Personality,’’ she said.

“Don’t have one,’’ he explained.

Anyway, she says she’s still on the job at 71 because he’s generous, closes his place on Sundays and holidays, and “who can’t use the money?’’ She’s supposed to arrive at 8 each morning but regularly arrives closer to 9. She’s earned the right to run on “Barbie Time,’’ her boss says, and she puts in around 32 hours a week.

I’m told the real show is when Mrs. Kline and her sister, Amy Murphy, work together in the tiny, open kitchen. She and Mrs. Murphy, six years younger and thus at Nied’s only 44 years, ease around each other like dancers.

“We have the moves,’’ Mrs. Kline said. “I love to dance.’’

What bands does she like?

“AC/​DC, Aerosmith, the Nied’s Hotel Band,’’ she said, “and ZZ Top. That’s giving my age away, but they’re good.’’

There’s a saying in Nied’s that “it’s not done until the smoke alarm goes off,’’ but my bacon has arrived with astonishingly perfect crispness. I say so.

“She’s been practicing 50 years for you, Brian,’’ Mr. Nied says.

Today, she’ll be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at Vincentian de Marillac nursing home with her mother, Amelia Siriano, 90, as many of her five younger siblings — Amy, Linda, Diane, Albert and John — as can make it, and their spouses. Mrs. Kline also has two children, Chuck and Diane, seven grandchildren and three great-granddaughters. She feels blessed to be around five generations of girls.

What’s the secret to good health?

“I drink a lot of water and I pray,’’ she says.

About then, another regular is heading out the door.

“So long, Barbie baby,” he calls like a teasing brother.

“Hey, Jerry, have a good day,’’ she says, and keeps cooking like someone who has never found any reason to stop.

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